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Open Access Publications from the University of California

(RE)presenting Research: On the Social, Cultural, and Historical Practice of Genre in Participatory Action Research (PAR)

  • Author(s): Ganding, Exequiel Sabino
  • Advisor(s): Hull, Glynda A
  • et al.

Designing pedagogy that cultivates the critical consciousness of marginalized youth is an ongoing project for educators committed to social justice. Critical consciousness refers to the ability of marginalized people to critically analyze their social conditions and act to change them (Freire, 1973; Duncan-Andrade & Morell, 2008; Watts et. al., 2011).

Participatory Action Research (PAR) implemented with young people, referred to as yPAR, in after-school or summer institute settings, is one popular approach to developing critical consciousness (Ozer, 2008; Cammarota & Fine, 2010). PAR is a research orientation that blurs boundaries between research, pedagogy, and action (Gaventa and Cornwall, 2006). As opposed to being the objects of academic inquiry, participants are positioned as knowledge producing subjects who learn to conduct research in collaboration with researchers on a topic of their collective choosing (Maguire, 1987; Fals Borda, 1991). Knowledge produced from research then serves as the rationale to determine and take action that makes change in participants' living conditions. Scholarship includes descriptions of PAR projects in a variety of contexts that yield different forms of knowledge and action, including theatrical plays (Dominguez et. al. 2009; Francisco, 2014; Nisker, 2008; Saldana, 2008), collaborative murals (Langhout and Fernandez, 2014), and art exhibits (Clover, 2011).

However, despite this excellent work, little research closely examines the series of literacy practices that are central in generating these knowledge/action products. Literacy practices refer to the consumption, production, and dissemination of texts. As a result, scholarship ignores a significant aspect of research activity - data documentation and analysis, research findings preparation and presentation, etc.- that participants engage in. This dissertation remedies this gap by analyzing literacy practices in a youth PAR (yPAR) afterschool program for 4th and 5th grade Latinx students at an elementary school in an unincorporated area in the California Central Coast.

Drawing on a sociocultural perspective on literacy, I collected and analyzed qualitative data - ethnographic fieldnotes, interviews, artifacts generated- from the program to study the social interactions with the different types of texts - genres - that are utilized to facilitate PAR processes of pedagogy and research (Street, 1984; Scribner and Cole, 1981;Lankshear and Knobel, 2006).

I draw on academic literature that conceptualizes genre as a social, cultural, and historical practice (Bakhtin, 1986; Bazerman, 2004; Briggs and Bauman, 1992; Kramsch and Thorne, 2002; Kress, 1993; Swales, 1990). From this perspective, genres are not only defined by characteristics internal to text - structure, content, and style. Rather, genres are in dialectical relationship with contextual conditions. Thus, as genres are influenced by contextual conditions, genres are also influential in actively construing and shaping contexts (Fairclough, 2003; Hanks, 2001).

After chapters introducing relevant PAR literature, the theoretical framework, and research design, findings chapters focus on two stages of the PAR process in the afterschool program: a) Lesson planning b) Literacy events (Heath, 1983). Analyzing program lesson plans, I demonstrate the ways in which the lesson plan genre has been adapted to PAR methodology in this specific context, identifying three primary activity purposes in the content: 1) Composing and Disseminating Information 2) Teaching and Learning Research and 3) Doing Research. Along with being adapted to this specific context, the writing and reading of the lesson plan genre guides activity in the program, organizing social relations among participants, scripting lines for program facilitators, and coordinating the use of texts in activities. For literacy events, I describe and analyze the interactions among participants when program facilitators attempt to implement written lesson plan activities with youth. Focused on several interactions in which the writing or reading of a text is involved, I demonstrate the key role that texts play in shaping PAR processes of pedagogy, research, and knowledge production. In the collaborative writing of scripts for presentations, youth are positioned as knowledge producers, making decisions on content, negotiating meaning, and communicating information. To teach research, program facilitators appropriate familiar literary and artistic genres, repurposing texts to familiarize youth with research concepts and practice. Doing research, participants use two genres - shot lists and poster narratives- to help scaffold the collection and analysis of data for a photovoice project at the problem definition stage of the PAR cycle. Shot lists and poster narratives mediate youth's process of making sense of and changing their worlds.

Across the study, I demonstrate the essential role that texts play in PAR to help empower participant-researchers to become critical knowledge producers capable of making change in their communities. Furthermore, along with the possibilities, literacy events are locations in which the challenges and contradictions of PAR emerge. Although invited to participate in the collective construction of knowledge, youth have to gradually become familiar with practices of participation. Although empowering youth as responsible decision makers in the knowledge production, program facilitators must also decide when to contribute their own expertise and exert authority. Finally, although posited as experts of their lived experiences and conditions, youth must gradually learn ways to communicate that expertise to others.

This project contributes to the small but growing research literature on PAR conducted with youth in afterschool programs and summer institutes (Ozer, 2008). By focusing on literacy practices, this study aims to improve processes of pedagogy and research in PAR with youth, examining important microprocesses that are enacted to induct participants into practices of making change rooted in research.

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